Friday, December 21, 2012

Little Truths

I've discussed words of wisdom several times: those nuggets of advice I've heard from school advisers, friends, TV shows, fortune cookies, and the like. But with this ridiculous semester finally coming to an end, I feel like my head is clear enough for the first time in months to look back and discover all the little things I've learned on my own, just by existing and living and watching the world move around me like I'm stuck in a shaken snow globe.

So here they are:
1) There are truths no one can teach you. These are the ones you have to find on your own. Anyone can tell you that the pumpkin flavored cupcake is the best, but you will not know it until you try that cupcake. Anyone can tell you that you will discover certain truths, but those things ARE NOT truths until you discover they are. For example:

2) Cliches are cliches for a reason. That saying you've heard a billion times over, the one that makes you want to scratch out your eardrums? There's a reason everyone says it. Usually, it's because on some level, it's true. Things like 'you'll never know until you try,' or 'everything happens when you least expect it,' ALL TRUE. But you only realize them, as I said in #1, if they've already applied to you.

3) Nothing builds your confidence like losing absolutely all of it. Sounds like nothing that makes sense, but it's true. If you're anything like me (or even if you just happen to be female, or human, heck), you've suffered from low self-esteem at some point. You went through a time when all you wanted was for someone to tell you you're pretty. And when someone did, you believed them. For two seconds, and then you went back to feeling like a waste of space.
But then somebody told you that you actually ARE a waste of space. And this wasn't a school bully or someone you dislike or even someone who was trying to hurt you. Somebody you either didn't know or cared about said something that reinforced your every self-loathing feeling, and made you lose every bit of confidence you had. Maybe they said it outright, maybe underhandedly. And you hit a low point.
But then even you took a look at yourself in the mirror and thought, no. I'm not worth nothing. I may not be worth much, but not nothing. And then you corrected yourself: no, I'm too cool, and nice, and happy to be not worth much. Heck. I'm worth quite a lot. And you start to build confidence. ACTUAL confidence that depends on nobody but you. Which brings us to:

4) There is no way to convince someone of anything (that matters). You can convince someone that the second Batman movie was better than the first. You cannot convince an anorexic person that she's not fat. You can convince someone that mashed potatoes taste better with sage butter than olive oil. You cannot convince your right-wing cousin that they should be left-wing if they actually care about politics. You can convince someone that the Hulk would beat Thor in a fight. You cannot convince a Rabbi to take up Catholic Priesthood, not if he actually believes in his religion. You cannot convince somebody broken and sad to suddenly be happy and whole. You cannot convince someone who thinks they're ugly that they're beautiful. If there's a truth they must discover, like that they're not hideous, or that their selfish behavior will only hurt themselves, or that nobody will believe the fiftieth lie in a row, they have to discover it themselves. There's no. stinking. way. around that. But with luck, they WILL discover it. And that's called maturity.

5) Emotion is not weakness. Crying may not look good. It may not be dignified. It may not be attractive or pleasant to watch or listen to. It may feel terrible. But it is not weak of you to cry or tell someone how you feel. Sometimes it's much easier to pretend nothing is wrong than to face it. When you feel like something's missing and you act like nothing's going on, that isn't strength. It's called DENIAL. Don't cry all the time, don't let it sit on you like a giant rhino storm cloud, maybe don't dwell on it longer than you should. But letting it get to you once in a while does not make you weak. It makes you honest, if only with yourself.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Semester's End

Ok, I'm not one of those Tumblr Blogs with all the fun GIFs, so instead, I had to make a cartoon substitute.

When your last class of the semester from outer sadistic space ends and you hand in your final:

And there is no shame in that :)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The End of the World

I've been thinking about the end of the world. Not because I actually believe in the Mayan apocalypse, but when you hear it spoken of, you start to think about it. What if the world was actually going to end this Friday? What if I absolutely knew that this weekend would herald the end of existence? What would I do with my week remaining?

I'll tell you one thing, I wouldn't be writing my take-home final.

But the world, in all likelihood, isn't ending yet. Life has a way of enduring no matter what happens. Even when your own personal world ends, everyone else's just keeps going. And by that, I don't mean death.

Death isn't the end of your world, not if you've built it around others, around a family and friends. The end of the world, for me, isn't when you're taken from your loved ones. It's when they're taken from you.

26 worlds ended on Friday.

Being so wrapped up in my papers this past week, I barely realized it was Chanukah, usually one of my favorite times of the year. It wasn't the usual song-filled warmth-fest with family and friends. It consisted mostly of lighting candles quickly and then running back to my room to work on more final projects and papers. It was a sad feeling, but you know, a grad student's got to do what a grad student's got to do.

All of Chanukah, I found myself praying in my free time (by which I mean the 30-50 minute subway commute to school and work every day). I'd pray for answers and help finding my way. Even though they always say never to rely on a miracle, I found myself praying for one.

Not for a big one like healing the sick or ending a war or winning tons of money. Mostly a small, selfish one. I feel like most miracles are like that. The things that others seem to have but you can't quite scrape together. So when it works for you, it's miraculous, even if in the big scheme of things it's the most ordinary thing in the world.

And then on Friday, I got back from work, and started my Shabbat prep. I turned on my laptop for something to put on in the background, only to discover the news from Sandy Hook, the Facebook rants for gun control and against politicizing tragedies.

And when I lit the candles before Shabbat, I sat, for once, staring at them. Shabbat means I couldn't write my paper. I sat next to the Chanukah candles and prayed on my own. And I thought about tragedies, and I thought about miracles, and I thought about the end of the world.

I thought about making sense of the unfair things that happen to us. When family members get sick. When friends suffer mental and emotional abuse. When people don't appreciate each other and take each other for granted. When small misunderstandings or words left unsaid explode into wars. Unfair things big and small. I can't picture anything worse than losing your child. I don't have children (yet). But I can barely picture losing a friend to violence, let alone someone much closer.

Then I thought about the people who were fighting each other on Facebook and other websites about whether we should be talking about gun control so soon. And a small, horrible thought occurred to me.

Maybe, at least, if something this awful had to happen, maybe it could at least become something important. Maybe it could lead to law reform, or funds being created, or new progress in treating the mentally ill? Obviously, none of that would transform this from anything but a tragedy. Obviously, better it should never have happened.

I thought about people I know who have suffered huge losses, and how they used their experience with tragedy to help others. And I thought about the apocalypse.

If the world was ending this week, what would I do?

I would stop Facebook chatting my friends and call them instead. I'd explore the place I live and eat the food I like. I'd drink a glass of wine or a cup of coffee to taste it, not to get a buzz. I'd stop putting up with the people who don't deserve my time. I wouldn't tell them off, just drop them from my weeklong life.

And I'd tell the ones I care about exactly how I feel, and hope that they have the same end-of-the-world perspective to say it right back to me. I'd hug a lot of people. Real, tight hugs. I would look someone I care about in the eyes, ruffle their hair, observe little details like freckles or wrinkles or facial structure, appreciate that they're devoting a few moments of their remaining week to me, too.

But the world, in all likelihood, isn't ending this week. And let's face it, we're probably not going to get any miracles.

So I can only see one option. If we want G-d or the universe to help, we have to meet them halfway. If we want to live a whole, regret-less life, we have to act like the world is ending, but also remember that there will be consequences for whatever we do after Friday. Last week, I took a few small, but for me huge steps to make sure I don't live my life with regret. I haven't gotten feedback for some of these steps yet, so that scares me, but I suppose I'll see what will happen soon enough.

And I think about 26 worlds that have ended. Maybe I can't do anything to make sense of something so awful. Maybe all I can do is take a look around me and picture if that had happened here, if my world was ending. So many people responded to the news with pleas to their friends to "just hold the ones you love."

In some cases, I have held the ones I love since. In others, distance has prevented me, and I've wished ever since that I'll get the chance soon. G-d, I'm preachy.

But hey, if it's the end of the world, I might as well say what's on my mind. Even if there aren't going to be any miracles.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Some Nights of Good Karma

And this year's award for most relatable song goes to... "Some Nights" by Fun. Come get your award, you Freddy Mercury-wannabes!

Meh, I figure this is somehow fitting. I've been hearing this song all over the place for the past few weeks and just didn't take the time to listen to it until last night. I recognized it mostly from the Chanukah-themed parodies by Pella and Standfour. (Shoutout to The Maccabeats' original Chanukah song, which has an important, great cause behind it.) But then, yesterday, I gave it a listen for real.

I may be a little bit in love with the lyrics, and not just because I briefly considered the title "Some Nights" for that webcomic that never happened back on Arbitribe (the subtitle for it was supposed to be " the Heights." I know, terrible).

This is probably the first time I've listened to a song and thought, this is me. But not just me, everyone my age I've had any sort of discussion with. A song about knowing you stand for something, knowing you want something, but just not being sure what that is. A song about oscillating between thinking your life sucks and counting your blessings, because except for that one thing that sucks, you've got everything you need. It might as well have been called "So you're in your early-mid twenties."

Apologies to the easily-offended for the one curseword in this song.

Besides, it's just another clear indication that Fun is trying to be the new Queen, an artistic choice I wholeheartedly approve of. We could use more Rock n' Roll. Come on. Listen to that beat, those power-harmonies, and the lead singer's melodic yelping and tell me he's not picturing himself with the Mercury 'stache.

The song features verses which sound oddly to me like some religious/ community complaints I've had and heard:

Why don't we break the rules already? I was never one to believe the hype, save that for the black and white. I try twice as hard and I'm half as liked, but here they come again to jack my style.

A verse about pursuing people you don't care about just to keep from thinking too hard, a verse about wishing you had your real friends around to make sure you're not forgotten, a spoken verse about disillusionment.

So this is it? I sold my soul for this? Washed my hands of that for this? I miss my mom and dad for this?

Obviously, many of the experiences named are not ones I've had or relate directly to (I don't think there's a martyr in my bed, anyway), but the sentiment rings true. I think my personal favorite one, though, is the one that just seems to cover all of it (and sorry, but it's the one place there's cursing).

Well, that is it, guys. That is all. Five minutes in and I'm bored again. Ten years of this and I'm not sure if anyone understands. This is not one for the folks at home. Sorry to leave, mom, I had to go. Who the ---- wants to die alone all dried up in the desert sun?

To me, this song is just essentially a summary of prayer. These are essentially the things I think about when I talk to G-d (seeing G-d's ghost, I guess? Hey, I'm Jewish, so not every parallel is perfect). I wonder if He cares, if He's listening at all, wondering why He didn't listen to some things I prayed for so hard. Wondering if, like the closing verse says, it's for the best You didn't listen.

I don't know about anyone else, but if I was singing this song, I'd have a siddur in hand and be staring straight up.

So what is this post other than an ode to one of the first songs I've heard on the radio and right away loved in a long time? It's an expression of an odd sort of smile I felt this week.

I realized why I've been so freaked out. It's because I realized just how little control I have over what happens to me. Sometimes it feels like the only things I can control is what I eat and when I take a shower. But then I realized there was one more thing I could control.

I couldn't control what other people did. But I could control what I did. So I did the only thing I could think of. I responded to emails and messages I had left fester in my inbox because of school. And I made a little Chanukah resolution. It's the same resolution I've been working on this entire semester, but this time I decided to really throw it into high gear. I've been working on what I consider my worst two qualities: my impatience and my tendency to react before I process.

So that's what I've been working on. Someone pointed out to me that if the last time I'd been having a hard time, which was two winters ago, someone had told me that in just a few months I'd be starting the best year of my life so far, I would never have believed them and demanded, "Well, why can't it start now?"

So now, that's how I'm choosing to view things. Things may be difficult now, but just like that concept of Karma, maybe it's difficult now so that it can be easier later. Maybe I'm confused about what I want now so that when I finally decide on a path, I will be sure of it. Maybe my first semester was so crazy difficult so that my next few won't be so comparatively bad.

I read a quote on the whiteboard in the hall at NYU last week: "One thing at a time, all things in succession. That which grows fast withers as quickly. That which grows slow endures." -J.G. Holland

Yesterday, the whiteboard said: "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." -Leonard Cohen (for those who don't know, the guy who wrote 'Hallelujah')

I took both of these to heart. Patience. And remember, not all is lost. It's just that nothing is perfect, and maybe it's better that way. Just because the bell is cracked, it doesn't mean it can't ring anymore. Who knows, maybe it'll sound better, like a slightly warped record.

G-d, maybe it's for the best You didn't listen. As long as there's a reason I just don't know about yet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Finals-week Philosophy

Call them miracles, if that's your thing. Call them fortunate coincidences, or maybe a series of fortunate coincidences. Call them Divine intervention or just a highly improbable occurrence you're pretty darn happy with. I don't care which you pick; really, I don't.

It's that time of year again. When twinkly-lights around Manhattan, Chanukah candles in the window (really, is there any sight more comforting?), and the heebie-jeebies unite to make you believe that something incredible is sure to happen. That great and rare occurrence, optimism.

All I can really see is that in a week and a half, I will be mostly free. I finished another paper this morning, and my last oral presentation is tomorrow. My twelve-page take-home final is due monday. And then, glorious exhale.

Yes, I'll still have one paper left, but I won't have class. Finals will be over. My packed five-day workweek will become a significantly easier two-and-a-half day one. I can't wait. And yes, that will mean the return of cartoons, and possibly even my sense of humor.

But that depends on whether this gut feeling I've got is indicative of truth, or just the result of too many sufganiyot.

Why do I suddenly oscillate between feeling impending doom approaching and feeling like everything's going to be ok? I shouldn't be feeling that way, by all logic. Nothing has occurred to make me think either way. Nobody has spontaneously called me with disastrous news; I have not had any wishes fulfilled or intense prayers answered. I'm still as unsure about life, the universe, and everything as I've been for the past three months.

Call it my "question phase," my epic gladiatorial battle between my brain and my heart, between what Kurt Vonnegut called the pinnacle of human evolution (the whirring machine/bad idea bear) and what Woody Allen called "a very resilient little muscle" (the thumping little masochist).

But now it's Chanukah. I have no idea what it is about lighting candles and singing songs that makes me believe that somehow, someone might have been listening to me all this time (that would be really nice, though). It's been a very long time since I asserted any belief that things happen for a reason (although I won't say they don't, either. I'm very up in the air when it comes to G-d's plan). And yet, somehow, now... I feel like there could have been reasons? And where did this feeling that things are about to take a turn for the better come from? Of course this all depends on whether this is me or the sleepless, studying, writing, caffeinating nights talking.

I'm rather confused.

If there are miracles, well, let's merit a few. They would be nice. I know of a few people who could use a miracle or two.

While we're waiting, Happy Chanukah.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

More Words of Wisdom

I'm at work when I realize I haven't eaten since yesterday early dinner, unless you count the three salt and vinegar chips I inhaled while typing up my interpretation of Martin Buber's discourse with Gershom Scholem regarding Hasidism (my take: it's one a.m. and I'm tired, go philosophize in another room, gentlemen).

Today, I finally handed in two out of the four papers I have due within the next two weeks. I haven't even had caffeine today. It's wonderful. A few more days and the other two papers will also be out of my life forever.

And in this little lull I have, the one day this week I have sworn not to spend on a paper (decompressing time is just plain old necessary, especially when you don't have the time for other forms of stress relief), I decided to look at that little blip of light at the end of the two-week tunnel.

Winter break.

I've got ideas for winter break, even though it seems so far away. It's true that since losing my ability to plan long term, I haven't been able to come up with any concrete projects and plans for that wonderful breather time, but I've got some hints. Mostly, though, I just see it as an end to the hardest semester I've ever had. Next semester, crazy as it will be work-wise, will be better than this one.

I've decided it will be this way.

I have a friend who has some of the crazy-strongest willpower of anyone I know. Whatever they decide will happen to them, whether it's where they will spend their summer, where they'll work, or even what mood they'll be in for the next week, somehow, they make it happen. It's incredible (and sometimes, I'm jealous of that ability). I'm giving it a try now. I'm DECIDING that next semester will be a good one. I'm going to be willful too.

Also, I've just got this weird, omen-like feeling that it WILL be a good, even important semester, whether I actually decide so or not.

And naturally, whenever I find myself facing a time of change or a step forward, I think back on the advice and words of wisdom I've received in the last few weeks. Here are a few of my highlights for this past month or so:

1) "Whatever you're afraid of, remember that it's a fear, not a fact." I got this one from my advisor at school, specifically in reference to fear of future failure. "You're afraid that you're going to fail? That's a fear, not a fact. Just remember the difference."

2) "Go skydiving." This one came from an old friend I met briefly after a long-time of no-see. He was telling me about a deep trouble he'd suffered some years ago, before everything started to slowly work out, and about how the only way he felt he could force his way past it was to do something that absolutely terrified him. Use the energy and fear and anger on something you would never normally do, that way, all that energy was put to good use, and you will have genuinely defeated a fear and grown from it. While the particular fear I decided to conquer wasn't skydiving, it's the principle that counts.

3) "If you're hungry, have a snack. But if they're serving your favorite food for dinner, don't spoil your appetite." Back to my favorite agonizing thought: the battle between instant gratification and possible long-term happiness. I picture it a little like this: would you choose a job that was difficult and low-paying now, but had tons of room for growth and eventual great pay and benefits, or an easy but brainless one that offered better pay right away, but with absolutely no room for growth or payraise in the future?

4) "The world is cold and cruel. If you find a small group of people who love and stand by you, cherish them and hold on, because you will need each other." This is a composite of a few lessons from Boy Meets World. I watched that show all the time growing up, and lately I've been rewatching episodes on YouTube. Sometimes you need a twenty-minute break from papers. The character Mr. Feeny has words of wisdom about love and friendship and courage, but if I learned anything from that show, it's from watching Shawn Hunter, the cute slacker. Every episode, he's got another girl on his arm, another funny comment. But he's also the one who spends nights in the park and gets arrested for petty crimes.
In one episode, Shawn considers joining a cult full of smiles, free food, and hot girls. Of course, this means turning his back on his friends and his longtime teacher, Mr. Turner. After Mr. Turner is critically hurt in a motorcycle accident and Shawn decides he can't face him, his best friend Cory grabs him in a forced hug. "This is when you hug somebody," he says, "When you care about them, and you want them to know that. Now you cannot leave here. Turner took care of you. He loves you, and you love him. Is that real?... You decide, but you cannot go." Eventually, Shawn is forced to stay and talk to his teacher, until he finally musters up the courage to say to the cult leader, "If I was an empty person, I would go with you, because it's easy. But I'm through with easy, and I'm through with empty." And I, the audience promptly burst into shameless 90's sitcom tears. For those who are curious, here's that episode.

6) "You don't know the Plan." If there is a Plan, if G-d is shaping your life or knows what's meant to happen, you don't know what it is. You can pray if you'd like. Maybe that will help. But whether it does or doesn't, you are not always, if ever, in control. I'm currently in the midst of trying to figure out what to do with this lesson, because if there's a Plan, I sure as heck don't know what it is. All I know is that for once, I've stopped my own planning, and I'm letting G-d/the Universe pick up some of the slack.

and finally, another Mr. Feeny gem:

"I can do whatever I want. I have the megaphone."

Monday, December 3, 2012

Social Interaction, Ready or Not

Two more weeks... dear, sweet Lord.

Two more weeks and I'll be done with this awful, stupid semester, and it'll be behind me forever. Yeah, there are grades, but at this point I'm not thinking about them. My entire world has become a tiny snowglobe. Except instead of snow, there are papers and textbooks and trying to fit the chaos of my brain into twelve, somehow legible, pages examining Jewish Mysticism, or Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, or the history of the Jewish community, or Winston Churchill's relationship to the Jews.

Two more weeks!

So someone explain to me why I've met more people in this past week than I have in the past year. I have my own theories.

One is a line straight from the epic religious debate with a stranger I wrote about yesterday. When the topic verged onto the changing of society, aka, can we really make changes in how the Modern Orthodox community functions now? (The topic, I believe was Agunot and possible actions the Orthodox community could take to solve this problem.) He wondered, is society ready to make a change?

To which I responded, if you're going to wait for everyone to feel perfectly ready, you're never going to take a step. That applies to legislature, social reform, religious topics, even one person's life (and I do not mean cases of 'my child is not ready to start kindergarten' or 'convince your girlfriend she's ready to go one more step when she's not.' In those places, you definitely need to wait). When change comes, you're never ready for it. It just happens, and you find out afterward if you were ready or not.

Sometimes, it turns out you weren't, but successfully coping allows you to catch up. Other times, you retreat back into your proverbial hidey-hole and deny, deny, deny. And if you're going to do that, expect life to chomp you on the butt later. That's all I'm saying.

So, I had a vague plan. I'm like that. I plan everything. If I could plan my life to the minute, it would take me some self control not to. Truthfully, the idea of planning life has of late become exhausting and unfulfilling, so I've largely stopped, but that doesn't stop me from planning the remainder of this stupid, stupid semester.

Two more weeks!

"I will write my paper on this day, finish by this time, after which I'll take a break to Skype with this person, and then clean my kitchen..." HAH.

It never does seem to work that way. I had planned to spend this last weekend reading all Shabbat in order to write and finish a paper on Saturday night and Sunday. Instead, someone told me: "I'm coming to visit you on this weekend. It's the only available Shabbat I've got. Can you host a meal?"

Now, I hadn't hosted a real meal, one I actually cooked and cleaned and prepared for, since July, that far off little castle-on-a-cloud that no longer exists. I didn't feel ready to get back into being all hostess-y. I wasn't ready for the effort, the socializing, the inviting, the coordinating dropping off tables and chairs.

But this was the only weekend, and they were coming to visit me. So I agreed, readiness be damned.

I cooked, I cleaned, I invited a large number of people, equal parts usual friends and new people, even one or two strangers. The ironic part is that the person who asked me to host later cancelled on me, but by then I'd invited the guests and bought the meat for the stew, so I was going through with this meal original intent or not.

And it was awesome. It was up there with some of the best meals I've ever thrown. I made some new friends and met some interesting people. And I pushed off my reading for Shabbat morning. Saturday night, I got invited out to go ice-skating with friends and a whole group of strangers. I went. I got invited to a near-stranger's birthday celebration. I attended.

And on Sunday, I finished my reading. And then I met a stranger and had an awesome debate. And then I sat down to write my paper. And then I hosted a leftovers dinner for a small group.

And then I wrote some more of that paper. It was there waiting for me; it didn't go away.

Now, would I have done any of these things if, say, the paper was due this morning? Heck, no. But the paper's due at the end of this week. And I know that I will get it done. All it really takes is deciding that I will finish it, and I know for a fact that I will.

That's usually all it takes.

You aren't always ready for the next step. Sometimes it comes at you unexpectedly, and turns out great. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes all it takes to "be ready" is deciding that you are, even if two seconds ago, you weren't. Again, this doesn't apply to everything, but when it does, it gets pretty interesting. Sometimes the circumstances are smarter than we are.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Challenge Accepted

Today was a turning point. Not in any significant life-event way, but in the subtle sort of epiphany way.

On this blog, I talk a lot about how the last three months have been some of the hardest of my life, though they're slowly getting easier one day at a time. I've tried to keep the details of what makes them so difficult off the internet, though more and more I'm thinking that someday soon, when I'm ready, I may actually discuss them. If I feel they're important enough to discuss.

One detail of the three months, the semester from hell, or whatever else I'm calling it, though, is something I think I want to talk about now. And that's the search for the deep conversation. It's the most minute part of this past semester, but among the tons of things and answers I've been searching for, high up on that list was a simple game of hide-and-seek with a philosophical conversation.

I used to have them all the time. And I used to hate them. Something about debating your innermost views of the world with someone seemed to me a little like changing your clothes in front of an audience. Even if that's your thing, even if you don't have any shame about your body, even in front of a close friend, you may be struck by the thought: what if I wore my ugly underwear today? Are they going to think I always wear something like that? In one way or another, you're exposing yourself.

And the thing with philosophical debates is that if the person you're talking to is smarter or more articulate or better educated than you are, it's very easy to come out of the conversation feeling stupid, or somehow invalidated. And that possibility used to scare me, because I lived life in a way I loved, but also thought was a sort of precarious existence. Boy, this post is going to be longer than I thought it would be. My apologies.

Two years ago, if you asked me what I liked least in the world, right after the taste of fennel, I'd say debating. To me, it was fighting for no reason. What was the point of exchanging life opinions with someone? It wasn't like you were going to change their mind. So why get all aggravated if you weren't going to accomplish anything?

Then, sometime in my last semester of college, I don't know when, how, or why, people started approaching me, and asking me to argue. Specifically about religion. Again, I don't know how this started or who told people to approach me. But soon it seemed like every other week, I was having discussions with agnostic or atheist friends of mine about the existence of G-d, why I keep religion, etc. And at the beginning, I hated it.

I remember being on Gchat with someone I had only recently met, having just such a debate, when I finally thought to ask, "why are you having this discussion with me? I'm not a philosopher. I don't know any more about religion than other Modern Orthodoxers."

To which he replied, "You're harder to argue with."

Apparently, the way I view my Faith is unusual. I still don't quite understand why, but from that point on, I thought, well, if they're going to argue with me, I might as well get into it. 

At the peak of my philosophical arguing (about a year ago), I was having these discussions almost every day. My favorite story to reference was the time a friend I hadn't seen in a while walked up to me at a party and said simply, "Hey, I'm an atheist now. I heard you like religious debates. Let's fight."

Again, I'm still really not sure why me.

Anyway, the debating and questioning was what finally led me, at around this time last year, to apply for my Master's in Judaic Studies. I felt like I had heard some kind of calling. Not a divine thing, but more along the lines of, hey, I seem to be good at this. Maybe I should make something of it.

And three months ago, just as all the proverbial spit was hitting the fan, I started Grad School, and instantly wondered whether I'd made a massive mistake. I felt like the tiniest little goldfish in a shark tank. Everyone knew more than me, and they were more aggressive, and they were not good little religious girls. They were theologians, Bible scholars, grown-ups. And they weren't interested in hearing my innermost thoughts. They wanted me to write papers. Long papers. One of which I should be writing right now, on what one theologian said to one historian two-hundred years ago before this pogrom wiped out the population of that village and how this all affected this theory of that study. I was In. Over. My. Head.

At one point, I confessed to a friend, "all of this academic language and writing, why did I go into this in the first place?"I remembered how much I used to love those conversations.

They used to mean something. They used to be an essential part of my week. And I missed the discussions. I missed talking about things that matter. After a while, I realized that not everyone wants to have those discussions, and I stopped asking.

And then today, I was talking to a boy I'd never met before, when they brought up the topic of Halacha. He expressed his opinion on one right path of following Halacha, which led into a discussion about why I should or shouldn't wear pants, which led into the portrayal of women in the Talmud, which led into law in general, the afterlife, evolution...

I won't go into the details of the arguments for sake of not completely boring those who read this far, but let's just say I disagreed with him on nearly every point. What was interesting though, is that while I'm usually used to playing the right-wing role, the religious gal in the face of someone rather against organized religion, this time I was the modern, left-wing, bra-burning feminist of the discussion.

Man, what a rush.

I knew I missed the discussions. I didn't realize until this afternoon just how much I missed them. As I got more excited and animated in my quoting Gemarah and philosophers, I realized I was probably starting to creep the guy out. But I really didn't care.

Somehow, I've gone from hating debates to loving every minute of them, if of course, they remain respectful and don't involve yelling. But for my current semester, unfortunately this day was a fluke. I miss talking about these things regularly. I miss having challengers around. I need a challenge. Because it's the ones who challenge you who are the ones who make you think.

How did that happen?